High-pressure jobs lead to weight gain in women, but not men, study finds

Long-term research shows that women who work demanding jobs experienced about a 20-percent increase in weight over 20 years, but similar results weren’t seen among male participants.

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — Having a high-pressure job is a key factor in weight gain among women, but not for men, according to a recent study.

Swedish researchers looked at health data collected from 3,872 Swedes who took part in a population-based study and compared results to surveys on demands of their job and psychological pressures participants face on a regular basis. They found that women in particular showed adverse effects when it came weight should their job demands more from them.

”We were able to see that high job demands played a part in women’s weight gain, while for men there was no association between high demands and weight gain,” says lead author Sofia Klingberg, a researcher in community medicine and public health at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, in a news release.

Participants, who were either 30 or 40 years old at the start of the study, submitted health and job data three times over a 20-year period. They were polled on demands such as their work pace, if they had ample time to complete their duties, frequency of contradictory demands, and how pressure at the office affected them mentally. They were also asked how often they learned something new at work, if the job tapped into their imagination or required advanced skills, and their level of autonomy.

The authors found that more than half of women who faced lofty demands experienced significant weight gain by the end of the study. The additional weight was more than 20 percent higher compared to women with low job demands.

Yet the connection wasn’t made among male participants.

“When it came to the level of demands at work, only the women were affected. We haven’t investigated the underlying causes, but it may conceivably be about a combination of job demands and the greater responsibility for the home that women often assume. This may make it difficult to find time to exercise and live a healthy life,” Klingberg says.

Autonomy in one’s job, however, did make a difference among women and men. Researchers found that those with little control of their work and duties gained about 10 percent or more of their weight.

The authors say that quality of diet, education, or other lifestyle factors didn’t play a role in study results.

As for ways to reverse the trend, the authors suggest that employers who make greater efforts to reduce stress in the workplace would likely see healthier workers.

If you feel like you may have a job with high demands or low control, you can take this self-test offered by the researchers.

The study was published in the journal International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health.